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During the hot and humid summer months in North Queensland, the local residents usually retreat to the backyard pool or the chilly waters of natural swimming holes and creeks. Being able to sit in a cool refreshing rock pool surrounded by beautiful rainforest is one of the great pleasures of living in this part of the world. 

While the high season for tourists in North Queensland is actually the winter months between June-August, visiting in the summer has its advantages. If you do visit during the summer, we highly recommend doing what the locals do and heading inland to find a beautiful swimming hole to splash in.

Here is our list of the best swimming holes in Far North Queensland:

1. Crystal Cascades (end of Redlynch Valley in Cairns)

This is a popular spot with locals because it’s fairly close to the centre of Cairns (15-20 minutes) although you need your own transport to get there.

crystal cascadesThe water cascades down the mountain creating beautiful waterfalls with many vantage points.

Swimming is only permitted in allocated areas for safety reasons and jumping is not allowed from the waterfall.

On the rock slide areas it always pays to watch other people before you allow children to slide down and if they’re young a lifejacket is a good idea for peace of mind.

There are several different pools of water where you can swim with steps leading down. Some are shallower than others, making them ideal for families with small children. The water is easiest to access from the first steps. Go down the second set of steps for the rockslide area.

2. Fairy Falls (Crystal Cascades)

For an extra insider’s tip, and for those who like a more adventurous (and therefore private) waterhole, take the path at the top of the car park at Crystal Cascades to Fairy Falls.

It involves a steep climb, which can be slippery so take proper walking shoes and water. Not for the feint-hearted and not suitable for young children.

3. Oasis Waterhole

The Oasis Waterhole is in Redlynch Valley Estate.

Along the road to Crystal Cascades take the road left into Redlynch Valley Estate, then turn right at the roundabout and follow the road all the way to the end. It’s not signposted but you will see a path that leads through the trees.

4. Ross and Locke (10 minutes from Gordonvale)

ross and locke swim hole
This is a very popular swim hole with the locals because you can drive right up to the river and the terrain nearby is good for 4WDing and quad biking.

It’s fun for kids because they can jump in off the bridge and float along with the rapids downstream. It is quite rocky so river shoes are recommended.

There is a ‘beware of crocodiles sign’ in the car parking area for a reason. Don’t go floating off too far downstream, especially after heavy rains.

Despite this many people swim here all the time. If you’re not sure, just wait for other people to get in first!

5. Little Mulgrave Swimhole (15 minutes from Gordonvale)

little mulgrave swim holeThis is a beautiful little spot if you’ve got younger kids as the river is shallow and gentle. It has a little beach area and the bottom is quite sandy too.

It is just by the Mountain View Pub. There is a turning on the right hand side just before the pub so turn in there and drive down to the parking area.

6. Harvey Creek (25 minutes south of Cairns)

harvey creekHarvey Creek is a favourite swimming hole for locals. It’s just off the main highway and if heading south from Cairns, turn left at the Harvey Creek turnoff just after driving through Deeral.

Just park under the trees and find yourself a grassy spot by the river or at one of the picnic tables.

The water here is clear and you can see the bottom, which is always a bonus. There are some rocks but the bottom of the creek is mainly sandy so you don’t need to worry about sharp rocks.

There are also plenty of shallow areas and rockpools to sit in if you don’t feel like swimming. But by far the best fun here is jumping off the bridge into the water.

7. Babinda Boulders (an hour south of Cairns)

This is quite a large swimming hole with steps down to the water and plenty of space to swim or lie on inflatables.

The water is cold, or refreshing, depending on your point of view, but it’s a beautiful spot with picnic facilities, toilets and a playground.

8. Josephine Falls (an hour south of Cairns)
josephine falls
One of the most beautiful waterfalls in the region, Josephine Falls is not only popular with photographers but also with swimmers who love to slide down the smooth rocks of the waterfall and into the waterhole at the bottom.

There are fenced-off areas that are not safe to swim, but the main area at the bottom of the falls is the best spot to swim.

9. Alligator’s Nest (near Tully, two hours south of Cairns)

alligators nest north queenslandRest assured this swimming hole is not named after alligators (it was named after a local scout group).

This beautiful rainforest stream opens out into a refreshing swimming hole and looks a little like the Babinda Boulders waterhole.

There are steps down to the water and a grassy area beside the swimming hole for picnic rugs.

There are also toilets, barbecues and picnic tables.

Located 6 kilometres north of Tully, it can be a little tricky to find once you turn off the highway, so make sure you take down good directions or a map.

10. Stoney Creek (Kamerunga, 15 minutes north of Cairns City)

stoney creekStoney Creek requires some walking before you actually reach it but part of the appeal is that it is still unknown to many.

At the bottom there is a weir that many people sit in but if you walk up along the creek (over rocks) you will come across some nice rock pool areas that are a little more private.

You will also that there is a walking track which goes up alongside the creek.

This is a really nice walk through the rainforest and eventually comes out above the treetops with a great view above Cairns. If you keep following it you will eventually end up in Speewah near Kuranda.

If you follow the trail, make sure you take water and snacks with you.

11. Behana Gorge (30 minutes south of Cairns)

behana gorgeLots of locals rave about this one but it can be a little tricky to find.

As you drive south of Cairns look for a road on your right past Gordonvale called Behana Gorge Road. It’s just after the pointy hill known as ‘The Pyramid’.

Keep following this road all the way along through canefields until you come to the car park.

The walking track takes about 45 minutes and there are a number of steep inclines so only go if you’re reasonably fit (it’s too far for young children to walk).

It’s worth the walk because eventually it opens out into a larger swimming hole with rockpools and a beautiful waterfall.

12. Mossman Gorge (two hours north of Cairns)

mossman gorgeMossman Gorge is about two hours north of Cairns (closer to Port Douglas) and it is well worth a visit.

You have to walk through gorgeous rainforest to get to the creek (we saw a cassowary in the trees once) and the water is breathtakingly chilly but on a hot day you’ll be glad you went for a dip.

13. Davies Creek (about 10 minutes west of Kuranda)

davies creek swimhole near kurandaThis beautiful national park is off the main highway between Kuranda and Mareeba, about 5 kilometres down an unsealed road.

The first area you come to has plenty of shallow areas to dip your toes but if you want a deeper swimming area head further up the hill and follow the signs.

This is a popular place to camp too and there are a few creekside campsites close to the water so you can have your own private spot right by the creek.

Take a picnic – you will want to stay for a while.

14. Emerald Creek Falls (about 5-10 minutes east of Mareeba)

emerald creek fallsThe turn off to Emerald Creek Falls is about 20 minutes or so west of Kuranda before you get to Mareeba.

Once you turn off the main highway you need to drive for about 15 minutes along a dirt road till you get to the car park.

It’s a rough road in parts with some big cracks in the road so if you haven’t got a 4WD it could get tricky after rain.

The walk to the top is almost a kilometre and not too strenuous. Dogs are allowed if they’re kept on a leash.

There are a few areas along the pathway where you can stop for a swim and a picnic.

15. Cardwell Spa Pools (about 2 hours south of Cairns)

This one’s a bit further afield but if you’re road tripping south to Townsville this is a good place to stop for a picnic and a swim. Take the Cardwell Forest Drive through Girrigun National Park.

16. Mulgrave River (about 45 minutes south of Cairns)

goldsborough valley swim holeThe Goldsborough Valley campground is not really that far south from Cairns but by the time you’ve driven all the way along the winding road to the top it feels like you’re a million miles away from anywhere.

The river is beautiful and there’s plenty of wide open spaces for a picnic.

If you’re a bit more adventurous you can walk up the Goldfield Track for a couple of hours and take a dip at the causeway.

16. Port Douglas Swim Holes

There are a few places to swim around the Port Douglas area that we’ve listed on a separate page.

[headline size=”small” align=”left”]travel nq fast facts:[/headline]

  • Please leave these swim holes as you found them and take your rubbish away with you
  • Take extra care in the wet season when surging water levels can be dangerous for swimmers and rocks are slippery
  • There are no crocs in these freshwater swimming holes but always be alert to croc signs (saltwater crocs are found in estuaries and wetlands close to the ocean)
  • Talk to the locals about recent conditions
  • Take insect repellent
    Top photo thanks to Tourism & Events Queensland (Mossman Gorge)